By Tracy Record
White Center Now editor
As is usually the case, the monthly North Highline Unincorporated Area Council meeting sprawled across a long list of topics and concerns.
Before the main announced topic – marijuana and the prevalence of shops both legal and illegal in North Highline – the NHUAC board and attendees heard the newest information on crime:
CRIME STATS UPDATE: White Center’s new storefront Deputy Bill Kennamer says the major categories show an overall year-to-year decline: 14 auto thefts in the past month, compared to 24 in the same month a year ago, “a real dramatic month,” he noted. The Coronado Springs Apartments area is a hotspot. Auto recoveries: Six this past month, compared to 11 the same month last year. Nine assaults, compared to 13 a year earlier; aggravated assaults, 3, up from 0 the same period last year. Commercial burglaries, forced: 2 compared to 1; just one non-forced, same as the period in 2014. Residential burglaries, 2 down from 5 (forced), 3 down from 5 (non-forced). Asked about the recent arson spree that led to an arrest, he said the officer who arrested the suspect, Joyce Ziegenfuss, took her into custody within hours of a “be on the lookout” bulletin happening. (We just checked the King County Jail Register – she remains in custody and was charged with arson.)
Despite all that, some at the meeting said they don’t feel safe in the area. King County Sheriff John Urquhart countered that forcefully, saying he was in Kent the previous night, where there was a “gang homicide” outside the Target store. “When was the last time there was a homicide in White Center?” he asked. (Answer: Going on two years.)
Then came the wide-ranging, multi-guest discussion of marijuana stores, dispensaries, rules, laws, concerns …
WASHINGTON STATE LIQUOR AND CANNABIS BOARD: The area’s new rep spent a few minutes speaking to NHUAC. He mentioned the new rules regarding marijuana businesses that were announced about a week ago; he says several public hearings will be held around the state to “welcome feedback” on the rules. (You can find them listed on this page of the WSLCB website, including one in Seattle on November 16th.) He also discussed changes made by the State Legislature this year, particularly how the medical cannabis business is to be integrated into the recreational business. The state Health Department will be overseeing the issuing of cards, for starters, and he says it’s believed that will reduce the number of fraudulent issuances.
One of the questions asked of the rep was: If the new rules are removing limits on how many marijuana stores will be allowed in a certain area, how will the proliferation be regulated? He said it depends on how many applications are received, among other factors. “So when can we say, we’ve got enough?” the attendee pressed. The rep suggested sharing that feedback with the WSLCB. “Our board is always receptive to that kind of feedback.” He added, “We began with a very conservative number of shops, based on trying to capture 5 to 10 percent of the black market, and then it would be revisited down the road.” Now, they’re hoping to target up to “20 percent of the black market,” he said. “I think we’ve got a long way to go before we capture the illicit market, which is our goal down the road … there’s still a very viable and very large illicit market out there.”
If this area is going to have a disproportionate number of marijuana stores – up to eight allowable, it was said repeatedly, according to the current formula – how can residents be sure they benefit from an appropriate amount of the revenue? asked one attendee. No clear answer ensued, but the rep said there’ll be a “formula.” Right now, spreading the entire $15 million tax revenue around the state would “be very thin,” he added. Overall, the advice was to speak to state legislators (at least one of whom might be attending a NHUAC meeting later this fall). That wasn’t much consolation to attendees who said that it felt as if the area has become a “dump site” for “vices.”
SHERIFF’S TAKE ON IT: Next up, Sheriff Urquhart declared he knows why there are more stores in areas like this – because too many other jurisdictions have banned them. He wondered if there is anything the state can do “to ban that practice.” Said the WSLCB rep, “No – that was the attorney general’s interpretation.” Sheriff Urquhart says then the law should be changed, since the intent of Initiative 502 was that every area would “take its share,” but without that happening, areas like this one that have no way to ban them are winding up with a disproportionate share.
Meantime, he says five of the 15 “illegal” dispensaries in the unincorporated urban areas are out of business, of the ones targeted at the news conference held back in July (WCN coverage here). He says King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg is “dedicated to” putting other shops out of business by going to court – via civil laws (as regional media reported last month) – by year’s end, if necessary. There was some back and forth with the state rep as to whether some of those stores would continue to have a grace period until next July or not.
NHUAC board member Elizabeth Gordon – who runs an I-502-licensed marijuana store in downtown White Center – noted that some areas that don’t have anti-pot-store rules, such as West Seattle, don’t have legal stores because they have few or no spaces that qualify given the buffer-zone rules, and “that’s another reason for the clustering … in this area.”
“Until this all settles out in the next three, four, five years, we’re just not going to know how this is going to work … I call this a giant social experiment in the state of Washington, because that’s what the voters wanted,” said the sheriff. “We just don’t know how this is going to work out.” He looked at the state rep in the audience: “You might have to change your name back to the Liquor Control Board.”
The state rep noted that the buffer-zone rules were changing.
“Could the county limit the number of stores in an area?” Urquhart asked King County Councilmember Joe McDermott, who replied that Bellevue had tried to do that but is “currently being sued … for doing so.” (Here’s a Seattle Times [WCN news partner] story from last year.)
MCDERMOTT ON MARIJUANA, AND MORE: Taking his turn as speaker, the county councilmember said the moratorium on dispensaries in the county is in its second six-month extension, and he hopes to extend it one more time. The moratorium was news to some in the room; McDermott said if someplace new has opened, the county needs to be notified so it can enforce the moratorium. NHUAC president Barbara Dobkin said it’s hard for the community to know what’s going in and where. McDermott noted that if it’s a legal store, there’s supposed to be a notice in the window. Board member Elizabeth Devine said, “No one’s claiming that pot shops are the end of western civilization … but because it’s new, you’re having (some who are responsible) applying next to some (who are not).” She said the fact that cannabis businesses are “all-cash” is a particular challenge/concern. “We just need you and the other legislators to look out for us because all sorts of interesting things can happen … otherwise, all hell can break loose.” McDermott said that’s exactly why he had pursued the aforementioned moratorium, and pressed Olympia to take steps to address the unregulated medical-marijuana business. One man said he felt there isn’t enough concern being shown for White Center; he wants to see “more law enforcement .. more response from the community when we ask for things to stop … cleaning up our streets and sidewalks.” He says White Center isn’t what it used to be, earlier in his 67 years of living here. McDermott noted that King County is not necessarily the best local government for WC. Board member Liz Giba said that she wishes information about unincorporated White Center and Skyway – both urban areas – could get information, broken out from the rest of the unincorporated area. Giba said she would get in touch with McDermott regarding what kind of information she’s looking for.
Resident Gill Loring suggested that anyone concerned about cleanups and other action can get in touch with Bong Sto. Domingo at the county. He also asked McDermott what’s up with annexation; McDermott said all he’s heard are “the same rumors,” regarding Seattle trying to “keep its foot in the door.” Whether the potential sales-tax credit is available at the level that the city wants for annexation was still in question. In the meantime, what can be done for the basics in the area? Loring asked – especially the roads? “The long-term outlook for county revenue is bleak,” answered McDermott. The county has lobbied for increasing the limit on sales-tax revenues, to get more money, and to get support from other jurisdictions, but nothing’s been finalized. Another question from Loring: Has the county researched why larger businesses aren’t opening in/moving to areas like this, given their proximity to the city? McDermott said he’d look into what’s being done in the economic-development area.
Later in the discussion, talk turned to the empty spaces in the heart of the business area, and what could be done about that. “This is a great community,” said one man. “Why can’t we attract people?” Discussion also wandered to trash pickup, and the perceived lack of a requirement for it, in some parts of the business district. Sto. Domingo explained that there IS a requirement, under health laws, but enforcing it is the challenge, with a shortage of resources. McDermott explained that the county’s in the middle of a two-year budget cycle, so nothing regarding funding for those resources can change for at least a year. Sto. Domingo said the crew that comes out periodically is working on it, but the problem seems to be breaking out “every other day.” Dobkin wondered why business leaders such as the White Center Chamber of Commerce aren’t involved in advocating for it; she says that on Sunday mornings in particular, downtown is in terrible shape.
BOG CLEANUP: This weekend county crews will be back at “The Bog,” per NHUAC members and Deputy Kennamer. Anti-trespassing signs will be going up in the area. Shrubbery cleanup will be happening in the 11th/12th/Roxbury vicinity – though that’ll cost a fair amount of money, the deputy noted, up to $60,000.
RENAMING LAKEWOOD PARK FOR DICK THURNAU: The County Council is expected to finalize this (prior WCN coverage here) on October 12th, and assuming that happens, a celebration is planned at November 7th at the Technology Access Foundation‘s Bethaday Community Learning Space.
NORTH SHOREWOOD PARK WORK PARTY: Watch for the official announcement of this, coming up soon.
UNINCORPORATED-AREA GRANTS: The deadline for applying for King County’s “community-engagement grants” is coming up next month – November 16th – it was pointed out. Find out about them here.
MARTIN’S WAY: One of the new owners of the former McMurphy’s at 16th SW & SW 112th, Vik, said the mural is complete and he is thankful for community support. He said he hasn’t had to call KCSO in nine months. He expressed thanks for the accessibility of County Councilmember Joe McDermott (who was present at the meeting). He said he is hoping to create a school at the site, teaching technology among other things. You can find out more at the website for what he says is called Martin’s Way (which started when he had a facility by the same name in the North Delridge area a few years back).
NHUAC COMMITTEES: Open to the public to get involved on a variety of fronts, Dobkin reminded everyone – if you’re interested, e-mail her (find her address on the NHUAC website).
WHITE CENTER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: Gordon says they’re trying to recover their former e-mail list – many people who used to get notifications of meetings, for example (including us here at WCN), haven’t had word for some time. You can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, she says.
The North Highline Unincorporated Area Council meets on first Thursdays, 7 pm, at the North Highline Fire District‘s HQ. In November, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg is scheduled, and is expected to bring members of his staff, with topics including the “community justice” program relating to abandoned/vacant houses, often bank-owned and taken over by squatters.